The Well Full of Leaves by Elizabeth Myers
A Well Full of Leaves is about a family of four children growing up somewhere in the north of England, with an utterly vile mother who is cruel to her children, self-centred, and deplorable.
The book is saying, rather like Dorothy Canfield Fisher in The Home-maker (1924), PB no. 7, that without nurturing and kindness, a child’s growth is stunted. The rather coy 1943 subtitle to A Well Full of Leaves was A Story of Happiness but we have abandoned this because it has such an old-fashioned ring and indeed we would want to substitute A Story of Unhappiness; because each of the four children is inevitably damaged in some way. Because the novel describes the struggles of a young girl who eventually succumbs to tuberculosis, it is in part autobiographical – auto-fiction years before the term was invented.
The child who is at the heart of the book, Laura, survives her abusive mother through her intense, overwhelming love of nature, as did Elizabeth. She is able to discover happiness in the simple things of life. 'She remembered how, as a small child in the backyard of her home in grimy, smoky Ancoats (a suburb of Manchester), a cluster of dandelions transformed the yard for her into a beautiful garden of fragrant blooms.’ There was a strong streak of mysticism in Elizabeth Myers, reminiscent of Gerald Manley Hopkins. As she wrote, ‘no man, not even a Catholic, can understand the holy sweetness of God who does not recognise the holiness of a blade of grass or of a little town sparrow.’
Paperback with jacket
Publisher: Persephone Books
Endpaper: The endpapers are taken from the fabric for a 1930s overall designed by Phyllis Barron for Rosebank Fabrics in Greater Manchester.